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The Associated Press July 26, 2010, 4:59PM ET

Wis. Senate candidate wavers on sale of BP stock

Republican Senate candidate Ron Johnson said Monday he hasn't decided whether to sell his BP stock, two weeks after he told reporters he would get rid of it.

Financial disclosure forms show the Oshkosh manufacturer owns between $116,000 and $315,000 in BP stock. On July 9, his campaign said he would move his investments into a blind trust.

Then after a campaign rally days later, Johnson told reporters he planned to sell the BP PLC stock to help finance his campaign against Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold. Monday, he said the sale wasn't certain.

"I think that will eventually happen, but I'm going to do it based on market conditions," Johnson said after a lunch hosted by the political website "I'm going to have to finance this campaign. ... At some point in time, to get my message out, that will probably happen. But it's going to be based on market conditions."

When asked if he would not sell the stock if the price was low, Johnson said, "We'll just watch. I haven't made a decision on that yet."

Feingold's campaign accused Johnson of talking out of both sides of his mouth.

"The fact that he now says he is waiting to make a profit off of his investment in BP so that he can continue to fund his campaign to defend big oil, shows that he is more interested in corporate profits than doing the right thing," said Feingold's campaign strategist John Kraus.

BP shares rose almost 5 percent to $36.68 in midday trading Monday in New York as the stock market anticipated a formal announcement that the company would replace Tony Hayward as chief executive.

BP's stock price hit a 14-year low in late June as the costs to contain the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico continued to rise.

Johnson, who owns Oshkosh-based plastics maker Pacur LLC, is mounting his first campaign for office. He got into the Senate race May 17 after appearing at a couple of tea party rallies. He immediately put $1.5 million of his own money into the race, leaving him with just shy of $1 million cash on hand through the end of June.

Feingold, whose only reported large asset was a mutual fund worth between $50,000 and $100,000, has $4.3 million in campaign cash on hand in his bid for a fourth term. Feingold raised $1.4 million in the three-month period ending in June.

Johnson's financial disclosure forms showed that along with the BP stock, he owned between $50,000 and $101,000 in Exxon Mobil Corp. and $15,000 to $50,000 in Occidental Petroleum Corp.

The exact amounts aren't clear because the disclosure report only requires the checking of boxes that list values in broad ranges.

Feingold and Johnson have been sparring for weeks over oil.

Two weeks ago, Feingold ran an ad accusing Johnson of being a friend of Big Oil and being open to drilling in the Great Lakes. Johnson strongly denied he would support Great Lakes drilling and quickly responded with an ad of his own, accusing Feingold of being "stuck in the mud" and saying he knew Johnson opposed Great Lakes drilling.

Johnson has previously criticized President Barack Obama's administration for having BP set aside a $20 billion fund for Gulf residents and businesses hurt by the oil spill. While saying BP should be held accountable, Johnson said the government "circumvent(ed) the rule of law" by not waiting for a formal finding of negligence.

Johnson is being challenged for the Republican nomination by Watertown businessman Dave Westlake and Milwaukee plumber Stephen M. Finn. The winner in the Sept. 14 primary will face Feingold and independent candidate Rob Taylor, a Cumberland software engineer, on Nov. 2.

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